United legend Robson calls on fans to be patient in City pursuit
Even as a club ambassador, having to be careful with his words on the current regime, Bryan Robson is fairly clear on what's required for Manchester United to claw back ground on their rivals City next season.
Unlike the last occasion when City pipped United to the title in 2012, edging it in the final seconds of the final game, there was hardly even a contest this time. Pep Guardiola's side set an early pace which ascended into a gallop and are cantering towards silverware with plenty of games to spare.
Robson, a United legend who played most of his 345 appearances between 1981 and 1994 as captain, attributes the chasm to one element - quality of personnel.
In Jose Mourinho, Robson believes they have the right manager. The club, too, have shown in the past year their ability to match City's spending power but acquiring the requisite calibre of talent - as Robson terms it, "Manchester United" players - remains the challenge. Exactly how far behind United are will have its latest public assessment on Saturday when the familiar foes meet.
"They need to sign three Kevin De Bruynes and three Harry Kanes," confessed Robson, when asked what's essential to close the gap. "I always think you don't want to be adding three players to your squad. But you've got to look and say certain players in the squad are not quite good enough and that's the manager's decision to see which players are not quite up to where they want to go. Then you've got to replace those players by bringing in better players so you keep trying to improve.
"When I look at United under the previous managers, David Moyes and Louis van Van Gaal, I didn't think the players they brought in were Man United signings. We were sliding down the league. Louis van Gaal did well by winning the FA Cup but United were really deteriorating in the league. Mourinho came in and you could see his recruits were better."
In Robson's view, the captures of Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez have set the foundations of rebuilding a United team to vie with City next season.
Further additions are necessary but so too is patience, something United fans are not renowned to possess. Five years have passed since Alex Ferguson left a parting gift of the Premier League trophy, a wait not suffered since the 25-year famine was ended by a team containing Robson in 1993.
"Pogba is just going through a bit of a bad patch," he reasons. "He was brilliant for Juventus last season and will come good. Lukaku's return of 26 goals isn't a bad return at this stage of the season and Sanchez, despite not getting off to a great start, is a top player and will be fine when he gets used to the players around him. Sometimes you've got to go through a barren spell. You're hoping the manager is making the right strides and move you forward. Mourinho has got us into a position that we're looking good for second spot and in the FA Cup semi-final this season."
That won't be sufficient to appease a section of United's fanbase, especially those critical of Mourinho's tactics. Robson completely dismisses the notion that style is imperative in the context of delivering success. "I've seen a lot of good performances this season," he contends. "Everybody was straight on the bandwagon after getting knocked out of the Champions League and rightfully so because the display against Seville simply wasn't up to it.
"However, look at the Saturday before when we beat Liverpool. The fans were all very excited from that heading into the Champions League tie. People can have short memories sometimes.
"Just look at what's happened at West Ham United. When Sam Allardyce was there, he got stick for not playing in the West Ham tradition. They were ninth in the league but the supporters moaned that they should have qualified for Europe. Look at where West Ham are now, down near the bottom battling relegation and with all sorts of problems."
Meanwhile, Robson feels Roy Keane will always divide Manchester United fans for his criticisms of the club.
The former club captain hasn't held back in airing his grievances against Ferguson since departing in acrimonious circumstances 13 years ago but Robson reckons it was the wider slating of sections within the club that have polarised opinions on Keane's legacy.
As near neighbours in Cheshire, the pair of former skippers often see each other but Robson wouldn't countenance the thought of advising Keane on his frequent outbursts. Besides, the elder of the pair thinks the damage caused by the flak, particularly the barbs articulated within Keane's second autobiography in 2014, is irreparable. "Roy is a mate of mine, and we still talk now and then, but it's a shame what's happened since he left Manchester United," explained Robson. "To put things in his book, where he has a big fallout with United's hierarchy, is calling out the club.
"If Roy could have just kept those thoughts to himself, rather than publicise it, then he could get on with his life and would be well accepted at Old Trafford. Fans are now split on whether to forgive him. If you're going to criticise the club all the time, then you're not going to get a great reception when you go back there. There's no point in me saying anything to him because he's a strong character and makes his own decisions. It's too late anyway."
- Bryan Robson helped launch Carling's Play On A Premier League Pitch Competition. This will give Irish customers the chance to win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a match on a Premier League pitch by entering their Facebook competition on www.Facebook.com/CarlingIreland
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